Curated Collections: The Future

Posted on 2/12/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Increasing numbers of stock photo buyers seem to be deciding that ever larger collections of images are not for them. At least as a first stop.

The big question is finding an alternative since most of the better known sites – both microstock and traditional – are racing to add more images.

No matter what search terms customers use when searching these sites, they are delivered way more images than they have time to review. At that point they either have to spend a huge amount of time scrolling through the collection, or accept the fact that for their immediate need they may not see the best image the collection has to offer, and after spending a lot of time in research they still might not find anything they can use.

In theory the collections develop algorithms that show the best images first. Increasingly, that doesn’t seem to work. Virtually all collections give weight to showing newest images ahead of older images. But, just because a cellphone grab shot is the newest image added doesn’t make it the “best” for the current need of many customers.

An inspector for one of the major microstock sites told me recently that inspectors are being pressured to accept more and more images. Since the inspectors are paid flat rate for each image they review there is a huge incentive to review more images. The review is simply whether the image meets certain technical standard, not whether the subject matter is anything a customer is likely to want to purchase.

This reviewer, who is also an experienced producer of images and knows what customers tend to use, says that in the last couple of years, particularly since the sites started accepting cellphone images from amateurs, the quality of the overall offering has markedly deteriorated.  “Flowers, wood backgrounds, tilted horizons, babies and family snapshots - everything that should not be added to the database, we are now being pushed to approve and add. A vast majority of the images going online now are simply bad and will not sell.”


What customer’s are looking for are image collections curated by experienced picture researchers who have an understanding of buyers needs. Many buyers are willing to pay much higher prices for images found in such collection because the curator of the collection has saved them countless hours in research time.

There are still a significant number of customers who are just looking for images at the cheapest price. But there is a growing number of customers who are willing to pay significantly higher prices when they can go to a collection where they are reasonably confident that they can find the right image for their project in a very short period of time.

As one example it is worth considering Shutterstock Offset. Offset is a separate collection that is available to everyone, but used particularly by Shutterstock “Enterprise” customers. Shutterstock has over 20,000 who generated over $100 million for Shutterstock in 2015. These customers are major users of images. Offset images license for $250 for web use and $500 for any other use, with some top level limits. Occasionally they get more than $500 for a single usage. Some of the $100 million is for subscription sales at very low prices, and single image sales from the larger Shutterstock collection. But there is good reason to believe that a significant and growing portion of that $100 million is for Offset sales.

One of the largest contributors to Offset is Cavan Images. Caven also sells directly from its own collection. Peter Hannert, Co-founder and CEO, of Cavan Images tells the story of art buyer who sent him a note of thanks saying that Cavan was literally “Saving His Marriage.”

“He had been working 80-hour weeks, spending a large portion of his time combing through stock photo collections in search of high quality lifestyle images. Once he discovered Cavan he was able to significantly cut down his time spent searching – by over 8 hours each week – allowing him to get home in time for dinner with his wife and daughter,” reported MicrostockDiaries.

ImageBrief launched MyMarketplace last year and the site currently has about 200,000 images that have been submitted by photographers responding to requests from specific buyers for images. Within Marketplace ImageBrief has created a curated collection of the best 6,000 images on the most popular subjects. In January almost 50% of the images licensed from Marketplace were of images from the curated collections. Clearly, customers are going to these smaller, curated collections first. If they don’t find what they want in the curated collection they can always go to the larger collection and wade through, but often the best customers find what they want in the curated collections.

Another curated collection I need to mention is Stocksy. Anyone interested in good curation should take a look at this collection.

Other Buyer Alternatives

Increasingly, customers that can’t quickly find what they want in a curated collection are simply using the time they would have spent on research to shoot what they need themselves. Many of today’s buyer have the skills and equipment to produce what they need without the help of a professional photographer. In some cases they may hire photographers to do the shoots for them. Unfortunately, since there is a glut of photographers ready to work for almost nothing, buyers usually don’t pay enough for the photographers to sustain a business from this type of work.

It seems clear to me that ever larger collections are becoming counter productive and buyers will increasingly turn away from them. The future seems to be in curation.

Copyright © 2016 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Bob Zentmaier Posted Feb 12, 2016
    Hi Jim: I hope you know about and its parent company , Photo Researchers Inc. We have been licensing images to editorial and commercial buyers since 1957!
    In 1981, we began specializing in photography and illustration from all fields of the natural, physical and life sciences. Our highly curated collections of medical , science, and nature photography and illustrations are meticulously edited and captioned by our staff who has a combined expertise of over 80 years in the field.
    Corbis contributors, especially those specializing in the sciences, would find a happy home at ScienceSource! We continue to work on a 50/50% basis for exclusive contracts and 60/40 for non-exclusive. Please add our site to your roster of possible agents to seek out in the storm!
    Bug Sutton
    Creative Director

  • Richard Gardette Posted Feb 15, 2016
    "Increasingly, customers that can’t quickly find what they want in a curated collection are simply using the time they would have spent on research to shoot what they need themselves".
    Jim, are you serious ?

  • PAt Kane Posted Mar 1, 2016
    jim is dead serious. Our son is Manager of Digital Media for a division of a huge Fortune 100 company and has on occasion produced his own images with hired talent. Of course growing up with a full-fledged photo studio, a photographer father, a producer mother and a full-time staff in your house prepared him for the challenge. Just a few weeks ago he was looking for a key image of a preschool-aged girl on a swing lost in delight with her head back and her hair flying. I helped him search and the choices were boring, without emotion and generally un-artful. He has to shoot it!

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